Byword and iA Writer25 Nov 2011
A few months ago I purchased iA Writer and shortly thereafter Byword. Both apps serve essentially the same purpose: simple plain text writing (with Markdown support). Both have taken slightly different approaches, but they serve the same purpose. After writing a small review of iA Writer, I wanted to follow up with a quick comparison and final word on which I've decided to use as my primary writing app.
As I mentioned above, both apps have very similar interfaces--their primary differences lie in the availability of user preferences. Both apps are plain text by default, encourage use of Markdown, feature a generally flat interface, and include fullscreen support. Now, let's see how they differentiate.
Available in the App Store for $4.99, iA Writer has absolutely zero preferences. The interface is very rigid--it's window flexibility is quite small, going from a minimum of two-thirds of available pixels to fullscreen. However, the interface is also a bit more ornate with a patterned background and glossy title and status bars.
The font and font-size are not adjustable and on a 21-month-old 15" Macbook Pro, the relatively low pixel density makes it quite large. That said, the application is focused, services a key market, and--my personal favorite--hangs bullets outside paragraphs to keep text completely lined up.
Also available in the App Store, but for $9.99, Byword features four key user preferences--theme, measure, font, and document type. The theme can be dark or light; measure can be narrow, medium, or wide; font is completely customized for size and family; and document type can be Markdown (plain text) or rich text. My favorite feature of Byword is actually it's implementation of Markdown helps readability quite a lot by fading back Markdown syntax and letting the text shine.
In addition, the window is much more responsive than iA Writer while continuing to support fullscreen. The interface is a bit flatter than iA Writer--solid background and no title or status bar chrome chrome. While these two areas are personal improvements over iA Writer, the lack of hanging indentation irks me slightly, but not enough to stop using the application.
To date, Byword has taken the upper hand for me. It's small amount of customization--mostly the control of the font family and size--makes it a pleasure to use. If it had the hanging indentation, it'd be completely perfect. Until then, I'll carry on with Byword as my writing app of choice and encourage anyone to give it a try if they haven't yet.